Red Deer driver wins school bus roadeo

A local school bus driver proved she has the skills behind the wheel in a provincial school bus competition held in Red Deer over the weekend.

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A local school bus driver proved she has the skills behind the wheel in a provincial school bus competition held in Red Deer over the weekend.

Janet Gillert, 39, was named top driver in a field of 42 drivers from several major school bus contractors in the 2011 Provincial School Bus Roadeo.

The competition consisted of a written test, a pre-trip bus inspection and nine driving obstacles.

Gillert said the toughest challenge was the “straight line” test.

The obstacle determined the driver’s ability to manoeuvre the right wheels of a school bus over a straight path of a given width without striking or moving the tennis balls (or markers) with any wheel.

“For me, that was the toughest part — lining up — because once you get up close to the balls, you can’t see them,” said Gillert, a driver with Prairie Bus Lines since 2005.

“So you hope you are lined up, then you have to bring the entire length of the bus down these set of balls. That I found was the most tricky part of the competition.”

Until Gillert started with the bus company, the largest vehicle she ever drove was her husband’s half-ton truck.

“I’ve always liked to drive,” said Gillert, a mother of two. “I’ve been a natural at it. I picked it up easily. I love what I do.”

Gillert has driven the same route to Grandview Elementary School for more than five years. Last year, Gillert placed 12th at provincials.

Gillert credited her top skills to the in-house training at Prairie Bus Lines.

The Red Deer resident assumed she cracked the top 10 but didn’t expect to finish first because Gillert nicked the odd flag and made a few minor errors.

Gillert’s showing earned her a spot at an international school bus competition in Baltimore next month.

To prepare for the test, Gillert will brush up on her mechanical skills and review the hosting community’s bus rules and regulations.

Her real focus will turn to learning to parallel park a school bus.

“I’ve done curb parks where you pull in but now I am going to have to back it in,” said Gillert. “That’s really where I am going to focus my skills on.”

Other Central Alberta school bus drivers placed in the top 10.

First Student’s Tammy Freerksen placed third; Prairie Bus Lines’ Doug Moore placed sixth; Wolf Creek’s Debbie Barron placed seventh and First Student’s Dodo Freerksen took eighth place.

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com